Self-Ethnography at AHO, aka Big Data OCD

Jan 21, 2013 | AHO, Links, News, Open source, Theory


Screenshot: Manic Time, time tracking app

Possible resources of interest in connection with the upcoming Self-Ethnography and Data Visualization module at AHO, focusing on tools and inspiration. Please also refer to the lecture note and the articles I put on Dropbox.

Articles / videos

Tools and software

  • Two options for auto-tracking everything you do on your computer: Rescue Time and Manic Time.
  • has a decent overview of available self-tracking tools: Guide / iPhone products
  • More obscure but Open Source and quite powerful if the documentation can be trusted: Selfspy, Python-based and runs on MacOS, outputting to a local database.
  • Popular social services: FourSquare,
  • Self-tracking goes well with an Open Source, information-wants-to-be-free attitude: See Open You or search GitHub for quantified self for all kinds of related projects.
  • Fitness enthusiasts, runners and bikers are avid data trackers. They drive the personal data tracking market while often remaining blissfully unaware of the Quantified Self utopia: MapMyRide, Nike Fuelband, Fitbit, Snore Lab
  • For periodic on-the-run logging of any type of information: your.flowingdata and Daytum offer convenient logging with charts and data export, clearly aimed at data heads. Compare Daily Tracker, which is more aligned with the narrative of self-improvement.
  • Evernote is not strictly about data tracking, but it is a very convenient tool for it. Focused on cloud-based note-taking that bridges across mobile devices, your web-based services and even normal office software, it’s a blank slate for any number of uses.
  • Services built around calendars and to-do lists: Clocked In, Wunderlist, Basecamp. Not obviously related to data logging, but often relying the same mentality of self-discipline.
  • Life Hacker is a respected blog discussing strategies to help you stay productive and in charge of your own life / career / inbox. Data tracking is one such strategy, popular since it promises to provide quantifiable analysis.
  • Somewhat related: Getting Things Done (or GTD) is a bestseller book about time-managing, but it also has a large online following that is pretty much a subculture in its own right.
  • On a more personal and emotional note, mood tracking was an early hit. It is now increasingly being presented as a possible self-help tool against mood disorders:, Moodpanda.
  • Also: Mydrinkaware, Recovery etc. focus on battling addiction issues.

Projects / inspiration: So much to pick from, so little time. Google is your friend.

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Mapping examples using the Unfolding library

Jan 27, 2012 | AHO, Code, Geo / locative, Open source, Processing / Java, Workshops

While preparing for teaching a course in data tracking I was very happy to discover the excellent Unfolding library for making interactive maps in Processing. Unfolding makes it possible to create just about any kind of tile-based mapping application with a minimum of code, simple map drawing typically coming in <20 lines. It's perfect for visualizing FourSquare, OpenPaths, GeoRSS or any other kind of geo-based data. Now if I could only figure out how to control the timing of the map tweening, right now it feels more like jump cuts than smooth pans.

Here are three examples showing a simple map display and two demos using geo data from OpenPaths in CSV format:

Update: The lecture notes about infoviz and self-ethnography are online on Scribd, it’s basically the same lecture as two years ago.

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Screensaver Culture – Twitter responds

Jan 17, 2012 | AHO, Theory, Workshops

After posting my Screensaver Culture presentation yesterday it was blogged on Creative Applications by Greg Smith and I’ve gotten quite a few responses on Twitter. Some of the comments are on point and some are just funny.

Below is a more or less complete list. In summary, the arguments are roughly as follows:

  • “Screensavers are outdated / unnecessary.” Well, yes. But that has never meant much in terms of deciding whether a cultural phenomenom succeeds or is banished to the Wasteland of Forgotten Memes. Tamagotchis or animated GIFs, anyone? 90% of all iPhone / Android apps are unnecessary for everyday living, yet the smartphone app culture is a runaway train.
  • “Developing screensavers is currently way too hard.” I share this sentiment and suspect it to the main culprit along with its corollary: “Installing screensavers is too hard / scary / likely to mess with the rest of my computer.”
  • “It’s impossible to improve on flying toasters.” This terrifying thought is exactly why I would suggest screensavers need revisiting.

In conclusion: Between being tricky to develop and just as tricky to install and successfully use, screensavers stand no chance of recovering ground as a cultural phenomenom. Despite their close link to the app culture that is currently dominating our lives, screensavers (aka “ambient software”) will get no love.

This might not seem like such a terrible loss, but I still posit that ambient data gadgets with possible integration to web / mobile apps would’ve been a great usage scenario. There are some ways this could still happen:

  • Microsoft and Apple realize the lost potential and relaunch their screensaver frameworks complete with app stores for screensavers. (Unlikely.)
  • Google develops a screensaver mode for Chrome as part of their Chrome apps initiative and allows sales of screensavers through the Chrome app store. (Entirely possible if a little optimistic. My favorite option by far, though. Google, are you listening?)
  • In both these scenarios, new screensavers would be based on HTML5 with WebGL, allowing them to be cross-platform and based on open standards. Because you all understand that proprietary is stupid, right?

A sad footnote: I had to uninstall the brilliant Briblo screensaver after realizing it was interfering with the taskbar on Windows 7. So I’m back to the ever popular blank screen, like so much of the world population.

The Tweets


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Screensaver culture

Jan 16, 2012 | AHO, Processing / Java, Theory, Workshops

Update: After this was posted it got blogged on Creative Applications and I’ve received quite a few responses via Twitter. See the separate post “Screensaver Culture – Twitter responds” for a summary, as well as some further thoughts on the demise of the screensaver.

Task: Make a screensaver for 2012
  • Your task is to come up with a concept for a screensaver that is both suitable to the screensaver format and updated to a 2012 understanding of interaction design. We are looking for ideas that go beyond the traditional screensaver format, or which reinvent that format by applying design thinking to a field full of visual cliche.
  • Two general directions are suggested (but not required):
    1. Ambient data gadgets – screensavers as data aggregators and visualizers.
    2. Computational graphics – parametric visuals.
  • If your idea is too ambitious to realize in a 3-day time frame we want to see convincing screen mockups of how the screensaver would work. But we would rather see a real demo that’s rough around the edges than a slick Photoshop sketch. You must submit at least one Processing sketch illustrating part of your screensaver’s functionality.
Screensaver Links

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AHO Processing Intro

Nov 21, 2011 | AHO, Workshops

Just a quickie to provide a link to the files for today’s Processing intro workshop:
AHO Processing

I stupidly forgot to bring my USB stick, so please download from here. Also, download Processing 1.5.1 if you don’t have it on your computer.

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Self-Ethnography lecture & notes

Sep 15, 2010 | AHO, Theory, Workshops

20101013 AHO Infoviz, Self-Ethnography

Lecture notes – Information Visualization & Self-Ethnography course

I have uploaded the introductory lecture from Monday to Scribd, as seen above. The list of suggestions for possible data sources and comments on possible challenges are at the very end of the document. The visualization examples I used in the lecture are listed below.

In the section on self-ethnography I made rather heavy use of Nicholas Felton’s Feltron Report as a valuable reference. Please see his web site for more information on that project, you can even purchase hardcopies of the report for your own pleasure.

Visualization links & examples
Self-Ethnography – tools

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Personal data logging and Information Visualization

Sep 13, 2010 | AHO, Software, Theory, Workshops

RescueTime graphs

Productivity charts generated by tracker

The next two weeks I am teaching a workshop in Information Visualization and Self-Ethnography for the Interaction Design course at AHO. I’ll be posting links and resources here on the blog in the next few days.

Required Reading

Data collecting tools

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Interactive art – references

Apr 20, 2010 | AHO, Theory

List of references for lecture about interactive art for AHO Interaction Design.

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Exercise: Computational typography

Nov 18, 2008 | AHO, Links, Workshops

Exercise: Computational typography

Create an interactive type experience. Experiment with animated and interactive approaches to typography, applying computational strategies for animation.Tell a story or make the user create their own story.

Work in groups. Make the result printable. The challenge is to make a static object become alive, transform and move over time. Key goal: Engage – interact – surprise.

Examples: Typographic animation, text scrollers, dynamic letters, emotional typography, automatic layouts, type as pattern, randomized fonts.
Deadline: Presentation Thursday 27.11.

Theory / blogs
Reference projects

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AHO: Computational weather

Nov 12, 2008 | AHO, Workshops

Exercise: Computational weather

Create an animated weather system. It can be literal or absurd, but should include multiple elements moving as part of a greater whole. Animate simple shapes so that they give the impression of natural phenomena. Use colors to hint at emotional qualities. The weather should have an interactive element, reacting to user input.

Examples: Snow and rain. Leaves falling. Wind blowing. Dust storms. Tornadoes. Sunshine. Waves at sea.

Deadline: Presentation Monday at 10.00.

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